Vive la France! 12 Extreme French Horror Movies

Proof that French Filmmakers are Expert Horror Practitioners


By the mid 2000’s, films from France were having a huge impact on the horror cinema landscape worldwide. Brave writers and directors were pushing boundaries like never before, producing films characterized by intense brutality and the bleakest brand of Nihilism. The movement was dubbed, “New French Extremity”, a name that no longer accurately describes the subgenre which is no longer “New”.

My introduction to French horror came in the early days of Netflix; with Netflix’s suggestions and viewer comments, I was exposed to a plethora of horror and gore that I might otherwise have never seen.  I didn’t go out in search of French films, I went looking for the best in horror, regardless of where it’s produced.  It just so happened that horror movies exported from France were consistently blowing my mind! Sadly, a lot of the films on this list are no longer available on Netflix.

The following 10 films represent some of the best examples of outstanding French horror.

Inside (2007)

Directors: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury

Writers: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo

Stars: Alysson Paradis, Jean-Baptiste Tabourin, Claude Lulé


The plot-line for Inside is as simple as it is horrifying: A mysterious woman breaks into a pregnant woman’s apartment intent on removing the unborn baby from her womb—with a pair of long sharp scissors.  That’s all there is to it and the entire film takes place over just a few fateful hours.  Even though the viewers know exactly what they’re in for, Inside takes its time, building up the tension and suspense until it’s almost excruciating.  Inside wasn’t filmed in slow-motion, but it sometimes feels like it as we endure practically every second of our protagonist’s trauma. The ending is emotionally exhausting and gruesome—extremely disturbing… and just a little bit sweet.  A few years back, Inside made Bloody Disgusting’s list of the Top 10 Horror Movies of the Decade, where it was called “the crown jewel of New French Extremity”.


Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

Director: Christophe Gans

Writers: Stéphane Cabel (original scenario), Stéphane Cabel (adaptation)

Stars: Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Vincent Cassel |


This film is loosely based on the book L’Innocence des Loups by French zoologist Michel Louis that chronicled a series of real-life killings that took place in the 18th Century, creating the legend of the Beast of Gevaudan.  This is a great horror movie for non-Horror fans, with beautiful scenery, amazing costumes, and enough attention to detail to please any aficionado of period pieces.  This film has a Last of the Mohicans and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon vibe to it, featuring an unlikely pair of warriors.   It’s got lots of actions and some great scares, but it’s relatively low on goreBrotherhood of the Wolf takes place in an era where science is only just beginning its battle against superstition (not unlike The Legend of Sleepy Hollow).  This movie is another example of the Historical Horror subgenre, like Black Death and RavenousBrotherhood of the Wolf can also be considered a fairy tale of the blackest variety.


Frontier(s) (2007)

Director: Xavier Gens

Writer: Xavier Gens

Stars: Karina Testa, Aurélien Wiik, Patrick Ligardes |


If you love horror movies and haven’t seen Frontier(s), I’m revoking your membership card.  Hand it over!  Frontier(s) is a “must-watch” if ever there was one.  Yes it’s brutal and disgusting and unnerving, but it’s extremely entertaining with a crew of interesting characters.  Director Xavier Gens proves himself to be a future Horror heavy-hitter.  In short: Take the best aspects of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Decent—and you’re still nowhere close.  See this movie!


High Tension (2003)

Director: Alexandre Aja

Writers: Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur

Stars: Cécile De France, Maïwenn, Philippe Nahon |


Almost as good as Frontier(s), High Tension is another absolute must-see for discriminating horror aficionados.  Stupid Roger Ebert disagreed calling it “poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” and that it has a plot hole “that is not only large enough to drive a truck through, but in fact does have a truck driven right through.”  Considering the majority of High Tension is eventually revealed to be a fantasy in the mind of a very disturbed individual, it’s not surprising that things don’t always add up.  Forget about Roger Ebert (rest in peace big guy!) and take my advice: See this movie if you have not already.  And don’t let anyone ruin the ending for you!  Absolutely chilling it is.


5150 Elm’s Way (2009)

Director: Éric Tessier

Writer: Patrick Senécal (scenario & adaptation)

Stars: Marc-André Grondin, Normand D’Amour, Sonia Vachon |


Often excluded from discussions of exemplary French horror (shamefully so, in my opinion) is 5150 Elm’s Way. A young film student in the wrong place at the wrong time finds himself held captive by a family ruled by a psychotic yet morally religious patriarch. Tame, perhaps, when compared to other extreme French films, director Eric Tessier uses a level of restraint that’s refreshingly rare. The fact that the gore and violence are not over the top actually keeps the film grounded in reality, creating an almost sickening sense of claustrophobia. The film’s primary action revolves around a deal the young man makes with his captor, a decorated chess champion: If he can best the master at his game, he will earn his freedom. You might think a film that centers on 2 guys playing chess sounds kind of boring—and you’d be dead wrong. Locked in mental battle, the rest of the world melts away and the intensity is palpable. Nothing will prepare you for the shocking climax or the utter tragedy of the film’s conclusion.


Sheitan (2006)

Director: Kim Chapiron

Writers: Christian Chapiron, Kim Chapiron

Stars: Vincent Cassel, Olivier Barthelemy, Roxane Mesquida


An Arabic word for Satan, Sheitan follows a crew of club-kids on an ill-fated trip to the country.  On Christmas Eve, a few horny guys are invited home by a couple of smokin’ hotties.  When they arrive, they meet Joseph, an unkempt and unnerving caretaker with something wicked up his sleeve.  Joseph is played masterfully by Vincent Cassel (Also in Brotherhood of the Wolf) who steals the show, vacillating between a gentle, humorous personality and something altogether sinister.  Things start off slightly strange and escalate into utter insanity.  This film oozes sexual energy until it runs amok.  Later, at a Christmas dinner, conversation turns from theology to incest as Joseph becomes completely unhinged.  One of the things I like best about Sheitan is that the person who emerges as the hero is probably the last person you would expect.  Plenty of gore and an awesome trippy, psych-out ending.  Great for fans of films like Trainspotting.


Malefique (2002)

Director: Eric Valette

Writers: Alexandre Charlot (scenario), Franck Magnier (scenario), 1 more credit »

Stars: Gérald Laroche, Philippe Laudenbach, Clovis Cornillac


Mitch Davis of Fantastic Film Festival famously wrote: “Malefique almost plays out like an imprisoned Satanic variation of Cube by way of Hellraiser.” It’s a glowing review, for sure, but I don’t think it goes far enough in summarizing this claustrophobic fever-dream. Compared to Malefique, Cube is like an afternoon at Disneyland. Prison already makes for strange and terrifying bedfellows, so when a journal filled with black magic rituals materializes, the mix is dangerously volatile. Prison is an extremely oppressive environment that creates a sense of dread even before the supernatural element is added. With some truly compelling characters and one of the most bizarre endings ever, Malefique definitely gets under your skin in the best possible way.


Them (2006)

Directors: David Moreau, Xavier Palud

Writers: David Moreau, Xavier Palud

Stars: Olivia Bonamy, Michaël Cohen, Adriana Mocca |

TRAILERS_Ils_Them_untitled- inside

Another great movie with an incredibly simple plot, Them focuses on a couple in a secluded home in the woods who are tormented by something in the darkness.  Similar to The Strangers in the sense that its victims were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time (this, however, is where all similarities end).  As opposed to The Strangers, Them at least lets you know who the killers really are.  Supposedly based on real events, Them is so basic that it’s hard to write about it without giving the whole story away.  This simplicity, however, does not affect this film’s effectiveness or its intensity.  With a great spin on the Cabin-in-the-Woods subgenre of horror, Them is a nonstop run from something wicked.  This film clocks in at just 78 minutes, but the tension is so thick, the experience seems to last vastly longer


High Lane (2009)

Director: Abel Ferry

Writers: Johanne Bernard (scenario), Louis-Paul Desanges (scenario)

Stars: Fanny Valette, Johan Libéreau, Raphaël Lenglet |


A great Survivalist Horror movie in the tradition of The Most Dangerous Game, High Lane is like Friday the 13th without the amenities of Camp Crystal Lake.  Similar to films like Primal and Dying Breed, a group of city-slickers (only one of whom has experience rock climbing) go on an adventurous get-away in a remote region of the Swiss Alps.  As if inexperience at high altitude isn’t dangerous enough, High Lane throws a love triangle into the mix.  Fears of heights are exasperated and tempers flare as jealousy and competition become apparent.  The characters are presented with multiple opportunities to do each other in (and the moral code of society seems to evaporate in this isolated environment).   As if this situation isn’t explosive enough, we’ve got a deformed, feral human (supposedly kidnapped as a child and abandoned) lurking around in the woods and rocks—and he’s up to no good.  This is a great film for fans of adventure movies with a good adrenaline rush.


Dead Shadows (2012)

Director: David Cholewa

Writer: Vincent Julé

Stars: Fabian Wolfrom, Gilles Barret, Laurie Cholewa |


The only film on this list that ventures into sci-fi territory, Dead Shadows will appeal to fans of Lovcraftian horror and alien body gore. A nauseating FX powerhouse on par with John Carpenter’s The Thing, Dead Shadows also draws on story elements reminiscent of Night of the Comet. The film is very young and hip—and unabashedly sexual.


Deep in the Woods (2000)

Director: Lionel Delplanque

Writers: Lionel Delplanque (adaptation), Annabelle Perrichon

Stars: Marie Trintignant, Suzanne MacAleese, Maud Buquet


A truly demented retelling of a familiar fairy tale, Deep in the Woods is another sexually charged, bloody example of amazing French horror. When a theater troupe accepts a one night gig at a private birthday party in an isolated mansion they have no idea the horrors that await them. Secret couplings and dark secrets are revealed, creating in-fighting that divides the group—making them easy prey. Deep in the Woods definitely features the creepiest kid of any of the films on this list.


Martyrs (2008)

Director: Pascal Laugier

Writer: Pascal Laugier

Stars: Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin |


So.  Fucking.  Good.  In the unrated DVD, director Pascal Laugier apologizes to his viewers for what they are about to experience.  He warns that you might not be happy that you decided to watch Martyrs.  He goes on to say that he sometimes hates himself for having created this film.  Either the intro is a marketing ploy, or Laugier is full of shit.  Martyrs is brutal, disturbed, and horrifying to the extreme, but it is also a brilliant and uncompromising vision with incredible depth.  Anyone involved in the creation of this film should be proud, not apologetic.  This irksome point aside, I cannot praise Martyrs enough.  To be clear, this is for hardcore horror aficionados only.  Not for the timid or sensitive, Martyrs is perhaps a feminists’ worst nightmare.  Martyrs grabs you from the very first second and never lets up.  One of the things I like best about Martyrs is that it’s got three very distinct Acts, each with its own climax and revelations.  Martyrs also introduces one of the most unique and unsettling horror villains in recent memory: An elderly, well dressed woman who’s known only as Mademoiselle.  Martyrs will hit you hard and keep you thinking for a long, long time.  If you watch this movie, you will be affected.  Word on the street is that an American remake has been in the works for years, but I can’t imagine anything that could improve on this masterpiece.   What’s it about?  A secret cult obsessed with the afterlife… and so much more.

Did I omit your favorite French horror movie? Let me know in the comments.

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3 Comments on this post.

Leave a Reply



  • Horror on Screen
    1 June 2015 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    Nice post Josh Millican… but the reason why 5150 Elm’s Way (2009) is always excluded from French horror movie lists is because it is a Canadian movie.
    Just saying, because you commented pretty aggressively on a similar mistake of mine last week.
    No hard feeling, cheers 🙂

  • Will Pryor
    27 March 2018 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    You mentioned all my favourites! Thank you